Rashomon: Kurosawa’s Use of Multiple Points of View

Rashomon, directed by Japanese maestro Akira Kurosawa, is one of the first classics in international film history.

While the film introduced director Kurosawa to the world, it did more than that: Rashomon introduced Japanese cinema itself to the world.

Although Japan’s film history dates all the way back to the end of the 19th century, it was not until Rashomon’s distribution in the early 1950s that the West suddenly “discovered” Japanese cinema and its great film artists whom we praise today, including Ozu, Mizoguchi, and of course Kurosawa.

Rashomon was almost never made. The production was canceled twice, but finally taken up with reluctance by the Daiei Company. his was due only to young Kurosawa’s relentless personal campaign.

Entered by Daiei in the Venice Film Fest of 1951, with little expectations, Rashomon captured the top honors to everyone’s surprise and Kurosawa’s immense joy.

Aiming high, the film dissects the philosophical notion of the relativist view of truth.

The narrative, set in the Heian period of Japan’s history, centers around a mysterious criminal act that occurs one day in the depths of a forest. The incident involves the violent confrontation of three people: an animalistic bandit, played by Toshiro Mifune, and a travelling married couple.

Although exactly what happens remains forever uncertain, the encounter leaves the husband dead.

The story is told from each of the involved parties’ wildly differing perspectives, a compelling device which has often been repeated since.

Each character’s account differs greatly, both in details and in cinematic style, that a clear verdict is impossible.

Kurosawa, originally a painter, entered the film business at the age of 26 to support his parents after the death of both of his brothers died.

He is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest directors of our age. His films include Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), Dersu Uzala (1975), and Ran (1985).

Black and white

Running Time: 88 minutes

Officially, the first winner in this category was La Strada in 1956, which helped established Fellini as one of the most important European director. 

Prior to the creation of a separate, legitimate category, the Academy recognized several foreign films with an Honorary Oscar, beginning with Vittorio De Sica’s neo-realistic movie Shoeshine, in 1947.

Academy leader and board member Jean Hersholt held that “an international award, if properly and carefully administered, would promote a closer relationship between American film craftsmen and those of other countries.” The citation for De Sica’s Shoeshine read: “The high quality of this motion picture, brought to eloquent life in a country scarred by war, is proof to the world that the creative spirit can triumph over adversity.”

The following pictures were singled out for Special Award before the foreign-language category was created:

             1947                 Shoeshine (Italy)                                  

            1948                 Monsieur Vincent (France)        

            1949                 The Bicycle Thief (Italy)

            1950                 The Walls of Malapaga (France-Italy)

            1951                 Rashomon (Japan)

            1952                 Forbidden Games (France)

            1953                 No citation

            1954                 Gate of Hell (Japan)

            1955                 The Seven Samurai (Japan)

Most o of the honored films had received theatrical distribution in the U.S. and came from established national cinemas, such as the French, the Italian and the Japanese.  Some of them were nominated for and won Oscars in other fields, such as costume design (Gate of Hell).

More importantly, all the movies singled out by the Academy were directed by name filmmakers, such as Italian De Sica (Shoeshine and Bicycle Thief), Japanese Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon), fellow-Japanese Teinosuke Kinugasa (Gate of Hell), and French Rene Clement (Forbidden Games).